Whistleblower outlines problems with sheriff dept. in lawsuit

Deputy sheriff alleges chronic understaffing among security lapses compromising security at state capitol

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new whistleblower lawsuit by a deputy sheriff alleges that the Capitol District sheriff’s office was understaffed on the day of the shooting of homeless man in February.

It’s one of several allegations of security lapses and workplace abuses by Sgt. Ralph Fukumoto, who also accuses co-workers of sleeping on the job, abusing sick leave, surfing online and watching television when they’re supposed to be working.

“This past weekend, I walked into the office and they were watching football on the big screens that were for our surveillance cameras," Fukumoto said.

“They’re actually sleeping in the office area ... They don’t bother to hide out and sleep. They just do it right there and nod off.”

In his lawsuit, Fukumoto said there were two fewer deputies on hand at the state Capitol on Feb. 18 -- the day Delmar Espejo was shot and killed.

“At the time of the incident, I believe that particular deputy was the only one in the building,” he said.

We’re told that the department standard is to have at least four deputy sheriffs, a dispatcher and a sergeant to at the Capitol.

Espejo was homeless, disabled and unarmed when he got into a scuffle with the deputy sheriff, who shot him at close quarters.

The Attorney General’s offices said the shooting was in self defense and declined to prosecute.

But Myles Breiner, attorney for Espejo’s family, believes the staffing shortage contributed to his client’s death.

“Had there been sufficient people, sufficient deputies around the capital. They would have handled this differently. Mr. Espejo would be alive today," said Breiner.

The Department of Public Safety said it has not yet been served by the lawsuit. It declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

Breiner said he plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of Espejo’s family.

Fukumoto said his complaints not only fell on deaf ears but prompted his supervisor and co-workers to retaliate against him.

His suit alleges that when he did complain, his equipment and locker were vandalized, his lock was changed and that one of his co-workers uploaded harassing screen savers on their computers.

“I take my job seriously. I believe if you’re a law enforcement officer, you should be accountable," he said

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